Microsoft’s recent talk about Windows 8 (or whatever it ends up being called) running on ARM processors and system-on-a-chip gear bring to mind thoughts of desktop windows running on tablets and smartphones, the current domains of non-x86 processors.
(Well, it actually makes me think more about this 1998 article called “Windows Everywhere,” which includes mentions of Microsoft’s strategy for “entering new territory by bringing Windows to handheld devices, terminals, car dashboards, copiers, and TV set-top boxes.” But you probably don’t spend as much time browsing our old archives.)
So suppose with me that all the naysayers and Apple fans are wrong and people want full desktop OSs on all their devices. What’ll it be like?
We already have full desktop OSs on these things, so it would just be more of the same. Plug devices into your computers, store files locally, all the stuff you’ve been doing since you got a computer that some (Chrome OS, iOS, etc.) are not convinced people really like to do.
So far there haven’t been any especially noteworthy attempts to release a smartphone running a desktop OS, but we’ve had tablets with desktop OSs for years. So far, they haven’t been popular, and for now at least, it looks like iOS and Android are going to be the popular choices. Personally, I hope Microsoft puts the effort into making Windows 8 a full desktop OS that can switch into a tablet mode for a smartphone-like experience, but with the option to switch back to a real computer. This would even be fun on smartphones—I’d love to slap my phone into a dock with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and have a desktop-type experience.
I’m drawing a blank here as to why I’d want a full Windows experience in my dashboard, especially since I like to upgrade my electronics more often than I upgrade my car. But a good, smart docking system could let a Windows 8 phone or tablet know it’s in the car and behave appropriately, once again adding options. If I just want GPS and music, great, but it could also intelligently configure cell network tethering and other advanced features depending on, say, which car I’m in, who’s with me, or where I am.
TVs and set-top boxes
The popular computers running on TVs these days are Blu-ray players and videogame consoles, possibly the only computers less customizable than current tablets and smartphones. It’s pretty easy to get your Windows 7 (or earlier) PC outputting to a TV, but it’s really not a good experience—you have to carefully configure the video and sound, and there’s not really a good, easy way to control a computer from your couch. This is another case where a desktop OS that can switch into a more limited mode would be useful, something like an improved version of Windows Media Center. This way, you’re free to change your software and your TV content can be updated, no matter what streaming video services or video formats become popular or go out of date.
Mark Smith mentioned Windows (CE in this case) running on copiers in the article I referenced above. It kind of seems like overkill, but you’d certainly have the most impressive copier on the block if you’re running Windows 8 on it.